Scientists at Purdue University have discovered some pretty interesting properties of silicon nanocantilevers, miniature sensors that one day might become the engines for future medical diagnostic devices:
The nanocantilevers, which resemble tiny diving boards made of silicon, could be used in future detectors because they vibrate at different frequencies when contaminants stick to them, revealing the presence of dangerous substances. Because of the nanocantilever’s minute size, it is more sensitive than larger devices, promising the development of advanced sensors that detect minute quantities of a contaminant to provide an early warning that a dangerous pathogen is present.
The researchers were surprised to learn that the cantilevers, coated with antibodies to detect certain viruses, attract different densities — or quantity of antibodies per area — depending on the size of the cantilever. The devices are immersed into a liquid containing the antibodies to allow the proteins to stick to the cantilever surface.
“But instead of simply attracting more antibodies because they are longer, the longer cantilevers also contained a greater density of antibodies, which was very unexpected,” said Rashid Bashir, a researcher at the Birck Nanotechnology Center and a professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering at Purdue University. The research also shows that the density is greater toward the free end of the cantilevers.
The engineers found that the cantilevers vibrate faster after the antibody attachment if the devices have about the same nanometer-range thickness as the protein layer. Moreover, the longer the protein-coated nanocantilever, the faster the vibration, which could only be explained if the density of antibodies were to increase with increasing lengths, Bashir said. The research group also proved this hypothesis using optical measurements and then worked with Ashraf Alam, a researcher at the Birck Nanotechnology Center and professor of electrical and computer engineering, to develop a mathematical model that describes the behavior…
The work, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is aimed at developing advanced sensors capable of detecting minute quantities of viruses, bacteria and other contaminants in air and fluids by coating the cantilevers with proteins, including antibodies that attract the contaminants. Such sensors will have applications in areas including environmental-health monitoring in hospitals and homeland security. So-called “lab-on-a-chip” technologies could make it possible to replace bulky lab equipment with miniature sensors, saving time, energy and materials. Thousands of the cantilevers can be fabricated on a 1-square-centimeter chip, Bashir said.